"Action, Struggle, and Fun!"
In 1976, less than two years after the death of General Franco and the collapse of his dictatorship, the City of Barcelona built a cement factory at the heart of the neighborhood of Neu Barris. Barcelona was growing fast, the argument went, and the plant was needed to provide construction materials for a nearby highway.
Nou Barris residents carry banner that reads "Salvemos Nuestros Pulmones: Fuera La Planta" (Save Our Lungs: Out with the Plant)
The most remarkable part of this story, however, is what the community of Neu Barris did next. Having stopped the factory from poisoning their families, the community members transformed this symbol of Franco-era industrial exploitation into a home for culture, organizing, and democracy.
The old cement plant soon after rechristened La Ateneu Popular
Over the years, the role of the Ateneu grew for the community of Neu Barris. As the economic crisis of the 1980’s led to a heroin epidemic across Spain, the center worked to open a youth hub, launching a series of juggling, stilt-walking, trapeze, and other workshops to keep young-adults off the streets.
Posted on the Ateneu's Facebook Page under the heading "Things we are Clear About: Nou Barris - Antifascist."
One of the Ateneu's circus performances this year.
But the political work of the neighborhood – both then and now – constitutes only a small portion of the activity in La Ateneu. In addition to serving as a platform for community organizing, the space brought life back into the neighborhood after nearly 40 years under authoritarian rule. Groups were formed to reinstate the carnivals which had been banned under Franco and even invented new festivals such as “La Cultura Va de Fiesta” (The Culture Goes Partying) which hosts hundreds of visitors each year.
The last part of this quote is profoundly important. Throughout the 40-year history of Ateneu Nou Barris, it faced stubborn pressure from the city to convert into a civic center “attached to the municipal government and with a public official as director.” Yet despite the additional funds this would bring – plus the pressure it would take off the community’s shoulders of running such a large organization – the community has fought to maintain its community led structure.
Community members enter en mass into the old cement factory, on January 9, 1977.
Community members reenacting the demolition of the plant to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Ateneu